What are possible chemical causes of mechanical low back pain?

Updated: Mar 06, 2018
  • Author: Everett C Hills, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Stephen Kishner, MD, MHA  more...
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Answer

Research since the late 20th century suggests that chemical causes may play a role in the production of mechanical LBP. Components of the nucleus pulposus, most notably the enzyme phospholipase A2 (PLA2), have been identified in surgically removed herniated disk material. This PLA2 may act directly on neural tissue, or it may orchestrate a complex inflammatory response that manifests as LBP.

Glutamate, a neuroexcitatory transmitter, has been identified in degenerated disk proteoglycan and has been found to diffuse to the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) affecting glutamate receptors. Substance P (pain) is present in afferent neurons, including the DRG, and is released in response to noxious stimuli, such as vibration and mechanical compression of the nerve. Steady, cyclic, or vibratory loading induces laxity and creep in the viscoelastic structures of the spinal elements. This creep does not recover fully in the in vivo cat model, even when rest periods are equal in duration to the loading period.

The concept of a biomechanical degenerative spiral has an appealing quality and is gaining wider acceptance. This concept postulates the breakdown of the annular fibers allows PLA2 and glutamate, and possibly other as-yet unknown compounds, to leak into the epidural space and diffuse to the DRG. The weakened vertebra and disk segment become more susceptible to vibration and physical overload, resulting in compression of the DRG and stimulating release of substance P. Substance P, in turn, stimulates histamine and leukotriene release, leading to an altering of nerve impulse transmission. The neurons become sensitized further to mechanical stimulation, possibly causing ischemia, which attracts polymorphonuclear cells and monocytes to areas that facilitate further disk degeneration and produce more pain.


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